Magazine article Tikkun

The Intersection of Anti-Occupation and Queer Jewish Organizing

Magazine article Tikkun

The Intersection of Anti-Occupation and Queer Jewish Organizing

Article excerpt

NEAR THE END OF THE ANTI-OCCUPATION PASSO VER Seder held by Jewish Voice for Peace in Seattle this spring, I looked around at my community of more than one hundred queer Jews and friends and felt an internal shift. After leading the concluding prayer, I told everybody that only six years ago, I didn't know any otber radical Jews with whom to celebrate Pesach. This year, I felt like I was taking a deep nourishing breath after years of shallow breathing. As a queer Jew who is deeply critical of the Israeli government and deeply inspired by Jewish ritual, my desire for both political and spiritual fulfillment was finally being met.

This experience highlighted for me how important it is for radical Jews to create alternative spiritual and political spaces, instead ofbegging to be let into Jewish institutional spaces that offer us inclusion only when we leave our anti-Occupation politics behind. Similar to how Jewish mainstream organizations welcome us as long as we toe the line on Israel, mainstream GLBT organizations represent us only if we validate heteronormative institutions such as marriage, militarism, and the prison industrial complex. In both movements, we need to create spaces outside of institutions that help us envision a world in which we want to live.

Our chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) provides a model of queer activism grounded in resistance to institutions that promote militarism and state violence. Queer-identified folks make up the majority of JVP-Seattle, which tries to think beyond mainstream Jewish notions of what is "in our best interest" as Jews. We aim to use our Jewish and queer histories of struggle and resistance to become allies to other oppressed groups, including Palestinians.

Refusing to let mainstream Jewish groups speak for us, we reject the disingenuous ways pro-Occupation groups use the notion of Israel as a "gay-friendly oasis" in the Middle East to divert attention away from Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine. As queer Jews, we will not allow the notion of our supposed safety as both Jews and queers to blind us to the oppression of others.

As queers, we also hold a broad vision of what is in our "best interests" and insist on working from the intersection of queerness with other identities. Mainstream GLBT rights organizations increasingly clamor for GLBT folks to be let into heteronormative mainstream institutions by pouring their energy and resources into legalizing gay marriage, passing hate crimes legislation, and insisting on our "right" to serve in the military. Instead of knocking on the doors of these notoriously oppressive and homophobic institutions, where so many folks experience abuse, we need to start creating alternative ways to validate relationships, create accountability, and challenge nationalist militarism within our communities.

Challenging a Pro-Occupation Rally

THE SUMMER OF 2006 WAS DIFFICULT FOR MANY JEWS IN Seattle, both because of escalating aggression by the Israeli government against Gaza and Lebanon and because of shootings at the Jewish Federation. At a Stand with Israel rally that summer, one week prior to the shootings, a handful of queer Jews brought an alternative voice to the unconditional support for Israeli military aggression. On a hot summer day, we entered the park with signs that said, "As a Jew, I cannot support bombing civilians" and "Judaism taught me to question the justification of war for peace." When we tried to join the rally, we were stopped by the police. We were told we couldn't enter the rally with our signs, yet most folks in the rally carried signs, just ones with different messages. It was increasingly frustrating to be told that we were welcome at the rally only if we left part of ourselves behind.

The police didn't know how to deal with us because we were Jewish protesters. They were told to keep protesters out, but many of us had been invited to the rally by our congregations. …

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